The unsung heroes of the vegetable world. Both are delicious, very versatile, since they work on their own or with any other vegetable, fish, meat, or cheese you care to mention, and very good for you. In fact chard is supposed to be one of the healthiest vegetables you can get, and artichokes are full of inulin (not insulin) which is a very long chain carbohydrate we can’t digest so acts as soluble fibre, which is good news for your bowels, and it may help to keep your blood sugar under control if you’re Type II diabetic.
Chard is also very very pretty. The leaves are generally big, dark green, crinkly and glossy. Sometimes they’re a deep purply blue. The stems can be any colour from a silvery white to a pale primrose yellow, to butternut squash orange, to rhubarb red, to scarlet, to dark blue like a damson. The colour of the stems is matched by the veins in the leaves.
Unlike the more familiar globe artichoke, Jerusalem artichokes are a root vegetable, and look a bit like a cross between root ginger and those nice long cylindrical Charlotte potatoes.
If you grow them yourself they have really pretty yellow flowers.
Both are a dead cinch to grow. Chard has a season lasting from mid May to about the end of September. It’s hardy, though may flag a bit in hot weather if you don’t keep it well watered, idiot proof, resistant to pests (slugs don’t seem to like it), and a packet of seeds planted in early spring will give you as much as you need and probably enough for the rest of the street too.
Artichokes are so prolific they’re a bit of a nightmare. They could even count as a weed. If you plant them (just like potatoes), grow them in a deep container; one of those rubble tubs from a DIY store will do nicely. Once they get in your garden that’s it. You have to call in air support to napalm the place, since when you dig them up as you crop them, even a tiny piece of tuber left in the ground will grow again An artichoke is not just for Christmas, it’s for life.
I hunted through all the cookery books in my local library and found not one mention of it in any of the big names, nor any of the smaller ones. I can’t understand why this vegetable is so neglected in the UK. It’s big in the Mediterranean.
And versatile or what? The leaves can be steamed or boiled like spring cabbage, stir fried, used as a substitute for spring greens in Chinese ‘seaweed,’ used as wraps for some stuffed concoction (sort of vegetable won ton skins), eaten raw in salad where they have a pleasing astringent taste that can only be described as ‘They taste green,’ and sit there looking gorgeous.
The stems can be sautéed, eaten raw, and they make spectacularly pretty crudités, much more interesting than celery. You can use them in stews and casseroles, just like celery as well.
A couple of quick and approximate recipes
Chard with beans and leeks
Here’s what you need
A big leek
Three or four chard leaves
A big clove of garlic
A tin of kidney beans
Oil or butter
Here’s what you do
Drain the beans, and rinse them well
Trim off the root and any grotty bits of the leaves of the leek, slice it lengthways into two, and slice into 1” slices. Wash it well to get all the grit out from between the layers. Don’t throw the leafy bits away; they make for an interesting texture
Tear the chard leaves into bits about the size of a stick of chewing gum. Chop the stalks into ¼” slices
Peel and crush the garlic
Heat some oil or butter in a heavy pan, add the garlic, salt if you want, and let the garlic cook but not brown
Add the leek slices and chopped chard stalks and stir things about gently
When the leeks have gone nice and squeaky (if you’ve never sautéed leeks before, you’ll soon get what I mean) add the chard leaves and stir a bit till they have heated through and are beginning to wilt
Add the beans and continue to heat over a low heat till they’ve heated through and it’s all sizzling gently
Serve with a generous grind of black pepper
Add chicken or vegetable stock, bring to the simmer, and you have a really very substantial and attractive soup
Chard and ricotta parcels
Here’s what you need
Chard leaves with stalks trimmed off
The world’s most minimalist ingredients list? Possibly
Here’s what you do
Stack the chard leaves on a flat surface
Take a heaped teaspoonful of ricotta, form it into a sausage shape, between your palms. You may need to wet or oil your hands for this to work if the ricotta is warm, so it works best when the cheese is still cold from the fridge. Place the sausage at the stalk end of the top leaf, and roll the leaf once. Tuck in the sides, then continue to roll. You may need to put a cocktail stick into the roll to stop it unwinding
Ditto till you run out of cheese
Brush the rolls with olive oil and stack them in a steamer
Steam for about 4 minutes
You can serve these hot, or cold as interesting finger food for a buffet. If you intend to serve them cold, cool them as fast as possible when they’re cooked, or they may go a bit floppy. You should be able to take out the sticks when things have cooled down
They work well in a salad if you peel them and slice them very thinly; they have a nutty sweet taste without any sugar being present, so they very healthy. If you want to use them like potatoes, they’re best steamed or they go a bit soft and sorry for themselves, but if that happens they are fabulous mashed with butter or olive oil.
Or slice an onion and stir fry it gently. Peel the artichokes (this may be tricky if they’re really nobbly, but the peel is edible as long as you washed things well. In fact I prefer not to peel them at all, but I’m odd.) Cut into ¼” slices. Add them when the onion is getting towards transparent, and just keep things moving so nothing burns. Add a bit of salt if you want.
Lastly. Thinking of stuffing and roasting some red peppers?
Peppers stuffed with artichoke and feta
Finely chop some raw artichoke, and mix it with an equal quantity of crumbled feta cheese, and use that to stuff the peppers.
Or try this.
Peppers stuffed with lamb and artichoke
Fry some lamb mince in a deep pan. Don’t add oil to the pan, you won’t need it; just take things easy till it starts to cook in its own juices Add a finely chopped onion, crushed garlic, and let it all cook till the juices have reduced to near zero. Don’t let it burn. When the lamb has cooled, add a good amount of chopped coriander and some cumin. Take the lamb and mix it with an equal quantity of finely chopped raw artichoke. Stuff the peppers ,and roast them as normal. Then stuff your self